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Pro-Gadhafi Forces Attack Rebel-Held Towns in East, West

Moammar Gadhafi arrives at a hotel in Tripoli to give television interviews, March 8, 2011

Moammar Gadhafi arrives at a hotel in Tripoli to give television interviews, March 8, 2011

Libyan government forces attacked rebel-held towns Tuesday in eastern and western areas with airstrikes, rockets and artillery, in a continuing offensive against opposition fighters trying to topple leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Libyan warplanes carried out several airstrikes on rebel positions around the eastern oil port of Ras Lanuf, one of them hitting a two-story residential building and causing some damage, but no apparent casualties.

Pro-Gadhafi forces also attacked rebel positions several kilometers to the west, where opposition fighters have set up a checkpoint that represents the farthest they have advanced from their stronghold of eastern Libya.

The rebels made a swift advance to the next town along the coast, Bin Jawwad, last week, but government troops with superior firepower drove them back to Ras Lanuf on Sunday.

Elsewhere, Gadhafi's forces continued an onslaught on the western town of Zawiya, the closest rebel-held community to the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Government officials said Gadhafi loyalists who have besieged Zawiya for days were largely in control Tuesday, though some residents said rebels still held the town center.

Witnesses said government forces were bombarding residential areas of Zawiya, destroying many buildings and flooding its hospital with casualties.

Rebel leaders based in the eastern city of Benghazi said they rejected an offer for dialogue from a Gadhafi representative. They also gave the Libyan leader 72 hours to resign or face prosecution by rebel authorities. The Libyan government denied reaching out to the rebels.

Gadhafi has vowed a fight to the death against rebels who launched an uprising last month against his 42-year rule.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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